Larger employers demonstrating maturity to the next level of wellness planning
Story by Sean Fitzgerald
HEALTH CARE HAS CONTINUED TO BE ONE of the primary players on the national policy stage for the past decade. And during the past six months, the Obama administration made sure health care took an even more prominent role.
But many opponents of federal efforts to bring about sweeping health care reform argue very little was actually done to change the health of Americans as a result of the so-called Health Care Reform Bill signed by President Obama this past April. The new law specifically focuses on health insurance reform, offering an approach toward preserving the conventional paradigms of Americans’ health while ensuring that more citizens possess insurance coverage. The reform plan doesn’t get to the heart of what’s wrong with health care in the United States, opponents have argued, largely that a growing majority of our population is overweight, sedentary, and remaining that way.
Such opponents have argued health care reform needed to trumpet individuals taking greater responsibility for their own health and wellness.
“We missed a real opportunity for health care reform to mean something substantial,” said Chris Hanson, president of Kimberly-based Hanson Benefits Inc.
Taking individual responsibility for health and wellness is the ultimate vision of our Alla tua Salute! winners that have been recognized in New North B2B since we launched our employer wellness awards five years ago.
Since that time, and with a recognition that employer-based group health insurance plan costs were skyrocketing out of control, a variety of companies across the region have taken matters into their own hands by educating employees about their health, providing avenues for improving their health, and even offering tangible encouragement to do so. These employers have fully bought into the concept of wellness, and undoubtedly are finding benefits as they continue to invest resources in a healthier workforce.
Workplace wellness programs – as an additional employee benefit and a risk-management practice for a company’s group health insurance plan – have risen to a new level of maturity among many of the larger employers in the region, as evidenced by our 2010 nominees. From B2B’s perspective, we’ve witnessed a heightened aptitude in the nominations we’ve received in the five years we’ve conducted our annual employer-based wellness awards.
Our four award winners in 2010 – selected by a panel of some of the region’s leading experts in health plan and wellness program design – represent excellence in employer-based wellness programming at the top of its game in the Fox Valley region.
For the 5th annual award, our panelists selected previous three-time honoree Miles Kimball Co. of Oshkosh for our Emeritus Wellness Program Award. Three new nominees to Alla tua Salute! were recognized with Leadership in Wellness Awards: Appleton Inc. of Appleton, J.J. Keller & Associates of Neenah and Miron Construction Co. of Neenah.
Leader of the pack
AFTER WINNING OUR INAUGURAL Alla tua Salute! Award in 2006, Miles Kimball Company’s Wellness Connection initiative would appear to be running like a well oiled machine. The catalog and Internet retailer has been conducting health risk assessments with its employees and their spouses since 2000, and has a decade worth of data to demonstrate employees are healthier today than ever before and its group health insurance premiums have remained low relative to its industry counterparts.
In the past 10 years, the company’s low risk population has increased more than three-fold from 23 to 72 percent, while its medium risk population has dropped from 58 to 25 percent and its high risk segment has dwindled from 18 percent down to just 3 percent. Such results are not only evidence of much healthier employees, but a genuine cultural shift toward an entire organization understanding, living and promoting healthy lifestyles.
Such results gained hailing praise from our panelists.
“They continue to do it right. Just based on results alone they remain the gold standard for wellness programs in this area, if not in the entire state and beyond,” said David Brand, an employee benefits specialist with Appleton-based Valley Insurance Associates.
“What do you say about Miles Kimball? They’re almost the poster child for wellness programs,” said Dan Morrill, a benefits consultant with Servant Insurance in Oshkosh. “Their accomplishments are the reason why employers do wellness programs, but most companies don’t get to this point.”
Despite its successes, even Miles Kimball Co. isn’t perfect. But just as one would expect from a leader in wellness programming, the company has continually assessed its wellness shortcomings and developed programming to improve results.
At the beginning of 2010, the company launched a year long Live Lean challenge, a series of programs and contests specifically geared toward employees maintaining and possibly even losing weight, said Jessica Buss, a human resource and benefits generalist for Miles Kimball. Buss indicated the Live Lean challenge stemmed out of a recognition that composite body mass index statistics were increasing slightly from past health risk assessment screenings.
“This has been driven by our HRA going up,” Buss said. “This is our main focus for the year – to maintain our BMI.”
The wellness plan overall provides a model for what other employers might consider.
The company’s medical plans cover the cost of routine physicals, well-care child visits, immunizations, mammograms, vision exams and colorectal screenings. Flu immunizations are provided to employees onsite at no cost each year, and blood pressure monitors are available at both of the company’s two Oshkosh facilities for employee use.
On the nutritional side, the vending machines at Miles Kimball provide healthier food and drink options at a discounted cost to their less healthy counterparts. Over time, these healthier foods are selling at volumes 15 to 30 percent higher than those foods with more than 8 grams of fat.
In addition, Miles Kimball offers regular lunch-and-learn seminars on various health topics, an annual health and safety fair for employees, and an in-house library on health and physical fitness programs.
And if just being healthier isn’t enough for employees, money always helps offer a bit of encouragement. Employees and their spouses scoring “excellent” or “good” on their HRA can receive a discount on their health insurance premiums, up to $60 off per pay check.
Robust menu of resources
PAPER MANUFACTURER APPLETON has maintained an onsite fitness center since 1995, keeping it open from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m, seven days a week, for employees and their spouses to use the state-of-the-art cardiovascular and weight training equipment.
But that’s not the only reason Appleton received one of three Leadership in Wellness Awards in 2010. In addition to annual HRAs for employees since 2007, the company has provided a potluck of creative approaches to engaging employees toward healthier lifestyles.
The company offers salaried employees $100 if they participate in three or more of its monthly wellness events during the year. Last summer, Appleton hosted a bi-weekly farmers market onsite to make it convenient and inexpensive for employees to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables. In 2008, Appleton’s cafeteria dropped the price of its salad bar from 39 cents to 25 cents – with the difference since then subsidized by the company – and employees found it encouraging to try the salad more regularly.
“That doubled the sales of our salad in the cafeteria,” said Heather Birr, the health and wellness coordinator at Appleton Inc.
Our panelists were also impressed with the creative approaches Appleton took to encouraging HRA participation. Employees must take the HRA if they want to enroll in the most traditional, most robust of the Appleton’s three health insurance plan options. For those who do take the HRA, they can receive financial incentives ranging from $100 to $200. Last year the company recorded 80 percent participation in the HRA among its salaried employees, and 50 percent participation among its hourly/union workforce.
“They have a great menu of resources and excellent participation in the HRA process,” said Brand in evaluating Appleton’s nomination. “To get 50 percent of union employees in that industry to voluntarily take part is really quite good.”
Appleton has made good use of its composite HRA results. In 2008, stress and depression ranked as one of the employer’s top risk factors. Birr said the company heavily promoted its employee assistance program through more active communication, EAP program training for supervisors, and a heavily attended lunch-and-learn session focused on stress management. As a result, EAP use increased, particularly among salaried employees – increasing from 5 to 11 percent between 2008 and 2009. By 2009, stress and depression no longer ranked as one of the company’s leading risk factors, Birr said.
Legacy of wellness excellence
WHILE EMPLOYER-SPONSORED WELLNESS initiatives have only appeared on the horizon for most companies during the past five years, J.J. Keller & Associates has had a formal wellness program in place since 1996. The Neenah-based provider of safety and regulatory compliance products and services has 13 years of health risk assessment experience, as well as a 2,000-sq. ft. fitness center opened in 1998.
J.J. Keller boasts the oldest Weight Watchers at Work program in Wisconsin, launching the weight management program at its offices 15 years ago and paying 25 percent of the program cost for employees, said Tim Pingel, the safety, security and wellness supervisor for J.J. Keller.
For the past five years, J.J. Keller has found its number of high-risk employees going down, even while the company has grown by hundreds of employees. By 2005, the company had just 5 percent of its employees registering as high risk on their HRA scores. By 2008, that segment had dropped to less than 3 percent.
“That, to me, put them right into that top category,” said Michael Bina, a health care consultant and publicist with Green Bay-based IntellectualMarketing.
The company added an onsite health clinic in 2009 staffed by a fulltime nurse practitioner and a part time medical assistant. The clinic has been used almost to capacity by employees for primary care visits as well as routine medical care, Pingel said.
While J.J. Keller’s onsite cafeteria had been catered by a third-party vendor for the past several years, the company brought the day-to-day management of the food service in-house earlier this year to provide healthier nutrition options. The cafeteria provides a salad and sandwich bar, Pingel indicated, and sponsored a fruit and vegetable promotion this past March.
In 2009, J.J. Keller received silver-level recognition as a Well Work Site by the Wellness Council of America, missing the gold-level recognition by mere hundredths of a percent, Pingel said. As the Well City – Fox Cities Initiative kicks off this coming year, J.J. Keller is lending its expertise and its facilities to help other smaller employers ramp up their own wellness efforts.
“They are the big brother of the Well City – Fox Cities initiative,” said Hanson, who is also one of the organizers of the initiative.
New kid on the block
MENASHA-BASED MIRON Construction Co. only launched its corporate wellness program in September 2008. In an 18-month span from the time the commercial construction contractor formalized its wellness efforts by hiring a part-time wellness coordinator and establishing an employee wellness committee, Miron has advanced its wellness program to the level of many that have been around for several years.
“Rather than tepidly tip-toeing into the wellness arena, they’ve really jumped in full force,” said Hanson.
In early 2008, Miron provided health risk assessments to employees for the first time, said Brenda Schanhofer, wellness coordinator at Miron. That effort laid the groundwork for hiring for her role later that September, and shortly after the establishment of an employee wellness committee.
Although Miron doesn’t have the breadth of experience to offer the in-depth results of some of our other award winners this year, its employee enthusiasm for wellness initiatives has been a model for participation. Voluntary company-wide fitness and weight loss challenges held on a regular basis throughout the year routinely capture at least two-thirds of employee support, including most management.
Nearly half of the company participates in the Fox Cities Marathon Festival of races, of which Miron is a sponsor. And that first round of health risk assessments provided in 2008 saw 87 percent participation from employees even though they weren’t made mandatory.
Miron offers the well regarded Health Dynamics screening to employees and their spouses as part of its health plan. This comprehensive, four-hour screening includes a medical and fitness assessment, a full blood work panel, an EKG stress test and bone density scans, as just a few examples of its depth. Because the full screening requires half of the work day, employees are allowed to conduct their screening on company time, said Schanhofer.
“This shows great foresight by the employer,” said Brand. “With more and more people not taking advantage of annual physicals, this more extensive testing essentially replaces that process in the year it’s offered.”
In addition, top management were required to take a Level 4 cardiac assessment in early 2009.
Miron also offers a 1,600-sq. ft. fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment and full locker facilities. The facility is open to employees, spouses and even their dependent children older than 12, emphasizing the importance of fitness for the entire family.
Lastly, its monthly lunch-and-learn programs – a staple for most employer-based wellness initiatives – are not only well attended by employees, but they don’t have to brown bag it for that meal. Miron provides those employees who attend with a healthy lunch at no cost.
Other best practices
EVEN THOUGH OTHER ENTRIES in our 2010 Alla tua Salute! Awards didn’t garner a formal recognition, many boasted unique wellness program efforts that capture the attention of our panelists.
Evco Plastics’ facility in Oshkosh uses the expansive property on which the plant is located for an employee garden where employees can grow their own fruits and vegetables. Evco also provides the incentive of one additional paid vacation day each year if employees complete a medical, dental and vision exam each year.
Even though Miller Electric Manufacturing in Appleton re-launched a new and improved results-based wellness program in 2009, it’s discovered impressive results already. Short-term disability claims were down 35 percent from 2008 to 2009, and that was in spite of an increase in the average age of the workforce. As of early April, short-term disability claims at Miller Electric had dropped an additional 33 percent from the same time period a year ago.
Lastly, De Pere-based Independent Printing Co. has introduced a “tobacco surcharge” for those employees on the employer group health plan who smoke cigarettes. It’s a cutting edge – and perhaps a bit controversial – approach, but aims to provide an enhanced incentive to quit smoking as to tangibly strengthen the link between higher rates of chronic medical claims from smokers and rising health insurance premiums. In addition, Independent Printing also contracts with an ergonomic therapist to keep regular hours at its facility twice each week to assist employees with discomfort and pain issues.